2. Brokaw Hits Both Edwards and Giuliani with Tough Questions
3. Newsweek's Meacham: Kerry a Flip-Flopper Just Like Abe Lincoln
4. NBC & ABC Hype Allegation GOP Set to Steal Election in Florida
5. CBS Defends Draft Story, NBC's Student Not Really Independent
From ABC to NBC, with FNC in agreement too, television reporters and analysts concluded after Thursday's first presidential debate of 2004 that John Kerry won handily and has thus revived his campaign. CBS and ABC conducted instant polls which showed a Kerry triumph. CBS took input from a mere 200 "uncommitted" people, but highlighted in prime the finding that by 44 percent to 26 percent they saw Kerry as the winner. The 500 or so people surveyed by ABC picked Kerry as the winner by 45 percent to 36 percent. Though ABC's poll also found no change in who those polled support, George Stephanopoulos was so excited about Kerry's debate victory that he trumpeted a competing network's poll, "There's another network poll on CBS that also shows a significant win for Senator Kerry," before he made a prediction which he and his colleagues can assure comes true: "That's going to start to frame the coverage coming out."
"The Bush team was hoping for a knockout blow here," Stephanopoulos relayed before he insisted: "They didn't get it."
ABC's Mark Halperin saw Bush as "remarkably angry-seeming" and "unusually angry. It's not usually a very becoming posture for a candidate, even for an incumbent President."
Post-debate assessments fulfilled predictions made by Tim Russert and Newsweek Managing Editor Jon Meacham. About 20 minutes before the debate, on MSNBC Tim Russert pushed a self-fulfilling prophecy: "The one thing I think that could happen tonight, Chris, is if John Kerry has a particularly effective night. If he's deliberate and poised and articulate and explains Iraq in a way that's understandable and people in the press corps and throughout the whole country say, 'Whoa! That's different than the John Kerry I'd seen up until September 30th.' I think he could get a very good buzz going immediately."
A few minutes later on MSNBC, shortly before the 9pm EDT debate began from Coral Gables, Florida, Meacham suggested that journalists are tired of Bush being in the lead and so will try to narrow the race. Meacham foresaw "the possibility that President Bush has peaked about a month too early. Because we all need a narrative to change." Chris Matthews probed: "Is that your prediction?" Meacham anticipated: "I think it's possible that we're gonna be sitting around saying, 'Well you know Kerry really surprised us.' Because in a way the imperative is to change the story."
CBS's Dan Rather wanted know: "If it turns out tomorrow that a wider sampling shows that Senator Kerry scored better than George Bush, what are the chances of making any real difference in the race?" Bob Schieffer confirmed Rather's hope: "If this poll is right, he got it across tonight what he believes about Iraq and people seemed to like what he had to say."
CBS's Anthony Mason stressed how "52 percent said their opinion of John Kerry had improved" and that "throughout the night," CBS's people meter "showed that overall John Kerry was scoring better than George Bush and he was scoring even better among women."
On NBC, Tim Russert decided that Kerry "seemed to find his voice for the Democratic view of the world" and so now "this campaign is fully engaged. This debate tonight, I think, moved it, this whole campaign, at an alarming rate."
From a session with six undecided voters in Ohio, NBC's Ron Allen described their overall reaction: "Still undecided, but the consensus seems to be a very strong night for John Kerry out here."
Ron Reagan declared on MSNBC: "I thought Kerry was the clear winner here. He was more certain, he was better informed, he was more presidential and he stands up straight and that doesn't hurt."
Painting the debate as "the cowboy versus the professor," Joe Scarborough argued: "I don't see how anybody could look at this debate and not score this a very clear win, on points, for John Kerry."
Newsweek Managing Editor Jon Meacham described Bush as "a man who was almost monarchial in his tone and he, you know, we talked before about he became Henry V and this was, and this was a kind, there was almost an element of self-pity there."
Tom Brokaw told MSNBC's Chris Matthews: "I think that John Kerry did do what he had to do." Brokaw contended that Kerry had re-energized his base "and maybe even gave some of those undecided voters out there reason to vote for him."
Tim Russert suggested: "I think that John Kerry tonight was the candidate that the Democrats thought they were nominating back in Iowa. That he was someone who would be a Commander-in-Chief, a Vietnam veteran who could go toe-to-toe with George Bush and put forward an alternative view and be seen as someone who can sit in that Oval Office."
Over on CNN, Jeff Greenfield decided: "The first question we were going to ask is did Kerry connect? And I think the answer here was yes....I have a feeling that the Kerry camp may be a little more happy with what happened tonight in terms of setting aside some of the really devastating impressions that have hurt his campaign."
Greenfield made the case that "you could say that John Kerry looked...as presidential as the President in terms strictly of bearing."
Later, on a midnight to 1am EDT NewsNight, Aaron Brown featured a session with the far-left Aaron McGruder, author of the Boondocks comic strip. McGruder declared Kerry the winner and charged that Bush "got his ass whooped."
Contrary to liberal presumptions that FNC is in the tank for Bush, the cable channel's analysts also saw Kerry as the winner. Fred Barnes related: "I'll have to say John Kerry did better than I expected. I thought he was very good, very articulate."
Bill Kristol echoed: "I think Kerry did pretty well, and I think we're having, we're going to have a real presidential race." After noting how terrorism is Bush's turf and yet he didn't dominate, Morton Kondracke concluded: "I think Kerry looked like a Commander-in-Chief."
The reality of FNC's analysis contradicted the assumptions Newsweek's Jonathan Alter made about an hour later on PBS's Charlie Rose. As caught by the MRC's Tim Graham, Alter forecast:
(By "Fox," since he referred to it as a "cable network, I'd assume he meant the Fox News Channel. Fox, the broadcast network, offered about four minutes of post-debate comment, from former Bush aide Brad Blakeman and Democratic advisor Susan Estrich, before ending coverage at 10:35pm EDT.)
Now, fuller quotations of post-debate analysis delivered by ABC, CBS and NBC, which all offered a half hour of post-debate coverage until just before 11pm EDT, as well as MSNBC, CNN and FNC. (Of the broadcast networks, only NBC's Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert were in Coral Gables; the CBS team of Dan Rather and Bob Schieffer, and the ABC team of Peter Jennings and George Stephanopoulos, remained in the Manhattan studios, though reporters for both networks checked in from Florida.)
-- ABC News, as documented by the MRC's Jessica Anderson with tips from the MRC's Rich Noyes:
# George Stephanopoulos: "Tonight was a big opportunity for Senator Kerry. He was up on the stage as an equal to the President. And over 90 minutes, he gave substantive responses to the charge that the President made. But I wonder if stylistically he helped himself even more than substantively, if by appearing calm and confident, for the most part, during this debate. He answered the flip-flopper charge with his demeanor even more than with his words."
# Kerry fought back. Jennings: "In a sense, Dean, it was one of my first questions, whether or not the Kerry campaign, in their inner sanctum, will think that he fought back effectively on convincing people that he hadn't changed his mind all the time on the question of Iraq."
# Fareed Zakaria, Editor of Newsweek International: "I thought John Kerry's most effective attack on the President was to separate the War On Terror from the war in Iraq, to separate Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, from the war in Iraq. Now, Bush had a pretty tough response to that, as well. He said if you believe the war was a diversion, if it was the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time, then how can you win it? How can you get us out of Iraq? Isn't the logical corollary to your view that we should simply get out, and they tussled over that and I thought it was pretty substantive.
# Jennings, half-way through the 10:30pm EDT half hour, announced the results of ABC's poll of 531 registered voters, of which, Jennings explained, 35 percent were Republican, 35 percent were Democrats and 24 percent were independents.
Before debate vs. After debate, candidate preference:
So, the four-point margin remained unchanged.
For the posted rundown of ABC's findings: abcnews.go.com
# Jennings: "We have an impression about the debate, people at home have an impression of the debate, and then we in the media talk about it a lot and people's opinions change."
# CBS News/Knowledge Networks poll of 200 "uncommitted" voters, 7 percent margin of error:
(As of 7am EDT, the CBSNews.com posting of the poll results had adjusted the numbers to 43 percent thought Kerry won, 28 percent went with Bush as the winner and 29 percent considered it a tie. The trend is coming Bush's way, barely. See: www.cbsnews.com )
Anthony Mason explained how the 200 involved in CBS's survey took part in a "people meter" like system: "Throughout this debate, Dan, we've been monitoring the reaction of these 200 fence-sitters. These are voters from across the country. We watched them moment by moment. They watched the debate on Web TV and registered their approval and disapproval on a sliding scale. This was a nationally represented survey of uncommitteds before the debate. 70 percent of these people said to us they felt country was on the wrong track, but only 14 percent said they had a favorable opinion of John Kerry. John Kerry appeared to score the highest ratings tonight when he described his plans for Iraq."
Mason proceeded to show how the positive/negative meter reacted to various comments by Kerry and then outlined how Kerry fared better than Bush in the polling: "John Kerry was concerned going into this debate that he portray he have a plan about Iraq. From our uncommitted voters, he has scored well. Right now, 51 percent of those voters have told us -- and these are uncommitted voters again in a simple across the country, 200. We have a margin of error of plus or minus 6 or 7 points. John Kerry got a 51 percent score here on having a clear plan for Iraq. George Bush, just 38 percent."
Mason moved on to how opinion of Kerry improved via the debate: "We asked these same group 'has your opinion of John Kerry changed?' 52 percent said their opinion of John Kerry had improved. It had changed for the better. 14 percent said it got worse, 35 percent no change at all. Throughout the night, this meter Dan, showed that overall John Kerry was scoring better than George Bush and he was scoring even better among women. The ratings from women were stronger than men. But pretty clearly among these uncommitteds, again a sample of 200 voters across the country, a representative national sample, this debate went to John Kerry."
# Rather: "Bob Schieffer, this is an unscientific poll, 200 people, it may or may not be. But if it turns out tomorrow that a wider sampling shows that Senator Kerry scored better than George Bush, what are the chances of making any real difference in the race?"
# Tim Russert loved the debate: "There were no knockouts, no knock downs, but you know what? This is the kind of debate this country wanted, needed and deserves. There are profound differences, and we heard them tonight. I think both men secured their base -- George Bush with the Republicans, John Kerry with the Democrats. And now those swing independent voters have to decide. Do they want the 'hard work, steady leadership' of George Bush? Or do they believe it's time for a change with John Kerry trying to reach out to the more international world in order to solve the problem in Iraq? It's a real decision to be made. And I think both candidates came in here polished and presented it in a very powerful way....Democrats, it's no secret, have been quite concerned about John Kerry. Tonight he seemed to find his voice for the Democratic view of the world. And now the independents will decide which one they want."
At the end of NBC's half hour, Russert suggested: "This campaign is fully engaged. This debate tonight, I think, moved it, this whole campaign, at an alarming rate."
See item #2 below for a taste of Brokaw's interviews with John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani.
# Ron Reagan: "Well I think the good news or bad depending on your perspective is that we don't get to take a vacation for the next month because I think we've got a race on our hands again. I thought Kerry was, was the clear winner here. He was more certain, he was better informed, he was more presidential and he stands up straight and that doesn't hurt."
# Joe Scarborough: "He didn't clarify the Iraq point but I will tell you this, it was John Kerry's best performance ever. I thought for the first 30 minutes of this debate it was George W. Bush's best performance ever. George W. Bush after the first 30 minutes lost his way. I'm not exactly sure why. He started fumbling around. He said the phrase, 'It's hard work,' eleven times. He would ask for an additional 30 seconds and then he would have nothing to say in those additional 30 seconds. He would repeat himself. What we have here in this debate tonight is basically The Cowboy versus The Professor. If you're, if you're scoring this thing the Professor won on points. The question is and this is what we're gonna find out tomorrow night, Sunday, when people talk about it tomorrow are they gonna say, 'Boy John Kerry really had a better grasp of where to take this country over the next four years,' or are they gonna say, 'George Bush knows what he believes in. He may not be the smartest guy on stage but I trust him.' That's the question. As far as the debate goes I don't see how anybody could look at this debate and not score this a very clear win, on points, for John Kerry?"
# Jon Meacham, Managing Editor of Newsweek: "I don't think this was The Cowboy versus The Professor, I think this was a king who is a little worried and a little tired of being questioned versus The Professor. Bush kept saying, 'I know how this world works. I know how to deal with these guys. This was a man who was almost monarchial in his tone and he, you know, we talked before about he became Henry V and this was, and this was a kind, there was almost an element of self-pity there."
# Andrea Mitchell: "I'm not sure about the reaction shots. The reaction shots were very damaging to Bush, the reaction shots which the networks did show, contrary to the so-called agreement which they did not sign, and those reaction shots are very revealing because Bush was impatient, he smirked a little bit. John Kerry in all of the reaction shots was carefully prepped to be writing notes or just nodding. He was never disrespectful to the President of the United States."
# Tom Brokaw, after 11pm EDT, checked in with his MSNBC colleagues: "I think that John Kerry did do what he had to do. There were lots of doubts, as you know, even within his ranks about whether he was able to articulate clearly his position on Iraq and the war on terror and whether he would appear tonight, both presidential and commanding as Commander-in-Chief. Now I'm sure that partisans on the other side would take issue with that but from a Democratic point of view one of the biggest concerns is the party had lost its energy, that it had coming out of Boston. And my guess is that John Kerry kick-started that energy tonight, re-energize the base and maybe even gave some of those undecided voters out there reason to vote for him. Having said that I think you can say the same about George W. Bush in terms of making a very strong appeal to his base and being very plain spoken about why he has the policy that he does in Iraq and why he has so many reservations about John Kerry leading this country in a war against terror so he could have made that same kind of appeal to that big swing bloc that we've been talking about Tim."
# Jeff Greenfield: "Well, we asked a couple of questions at the beginning. I will try a tentative answer. The first question we were going to ask is did Kerry connect? And I think the answer here was yes. People who tuned in expecting to see a wordy, conflicted, self-contradictory Senator, the kind of person who has been portrayed in the press, didn't. And he was at pains to be direct, to not go over his time, and also, in a classic debate move, to take control of the room, as we talked about, to take the President's words and turn them against him. I talked to one Democratic consultant, who's been a little concerned about the Kerry campaign, who was quite pleased tonight.
More Greenfield: "What I think you can absolutely say is that John Kerry was clearly aware that the camera might always be on him. You know that they negotiated no cutaways and I do think, you know, if somebody was tuning into this debate who really hadn't been following the campaign very closely and looked at those two shots, it does seem to me that you could say that John Kerry looked -- and I hate this phrase -- as presidential as the President in terms strictly of bearing. And I think that's one of the things that we would really be wanting to see how people took, what people took from the atmospherics of this. Did they see Kerry more as a possible Commander-in-Chief now than they did 48 hours ago or 24 hours ago, because the polling clearly indicates that up to now, they've seen Bush much more as a Commander-in-Chief than Kerry."
# Bill Schneider corrected Bush: "Well, the one thing that President Bush said was something that John Kerry caught. Take a listen to this statement by President Bush when he was asked a question about whether he would again fight a preemptive war."
# David Ensor corrected Kerry: "You know, there were a couple cases as Bill pointed out, where they caught each other. When, for example, John Kerry left off Poland as one of the allies that's in Iraq, a minor thing like that, but Bush caught him right away. But there are more fundamental errors or at least disagreements there that you could say are errors. Kerry said that Afghanistan is where Osama bin Laden is and that's where we should have troops. Well, the CIA says they believe Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan and Pakistan won't let U.S. troops go in, so that's a problem. He said at one point that WMD, weapons of mass destruction, are crossing the border every day. I'm not sure what he means by that and we'd have to try to find someone who knows. He said at one point that it was on George Bush's watch, that it was during the Iraq war that North Korea got nuclear weapons. In fact, the CIA has said for some years now, and prior to the Iraq war, it believed North Korea might have one or two nuclear weapons. So that predates the Iraq war. So there are some factual problems there."
# Fred Barnes: "I'll have to say John Kerry did better than I expected. I thought he was very good, very articulate. The one thing, and then particularly in raising questions about decisions by President Bush, I didn't think he made that strong a case that he really has a plan, a strong plan that will work in Iraq. He said he did, but he didn't outline one that showed that he did."
# Bill Kristol: "There was a chance that the President would knock Kerry out of the race tonight. I think basically if he had won this debate decisively, if Kerry had looked like a figure of mixed messages and someone who thought this was the wrong war and wasn't willing to prosecute it and wasn't willing to fight the war on terror, I don't think, I think Kerry survived and indeed did pretty well tonight. I mean, Kerry was forceful and articulate, and he said two or three times, 'The President made a mistake in invading Iraq.' That was his core message, but I think he did a pretty good job by his lights of making the case that the invasion of Iraq was wrong, but now that we're there, I'm going to fight to win it just as aggressively as the President. That was what Kerry had to do."
# Morton Kondracke: "I'm surprised that the President didn't remember that Kerry had once said that to, on television, that to vote against the $87 billion would be reckless and irresponsible and would send the message that we were gonna bug out of Iraq. That could have been played very effectively back at Kerry, and the President seemingly forgot about it."
# Kristol: "I think the Bush team wanted, hoped that Democrats would be demoralized after tonight, that Bush would beat Kerry, Kerry's already behind by five or six points in the polls, and basically they would be able to kind of keep the momentum they had built up over the last six weeks. I don't think that happened. I think Kerry did pretty well, and I think we're having, we're going to have a real presidential race."
Kudos to Tom Brokaw for hitting John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani with equally challenging questions from the talking points of their opponents. Brokaw reminded Edwards that "Senator Kerry gave the President authority to wage" war on Iraq and pointed out that "there is no indication" Chirac or Schroeder will help in Iraq. Brokaw informed Giuliani that Pakistani President Musharraf "says that the United States war in Iraq has made the situation for the United States in the Islamic world worse, not better."
Brokaw interviewed Edwards via satellite. His second question: "I'm compelled to point out that both you and Senator Kerry gave the President authority to wage that war. And when Senator Kerry says tonight that he'll bring an international alliance to that effort -- and we have talked about this before -- there is no indication on the part of President Chirac of France, for example, or Chancellor Schroeder of Germany, that they're going to go to Iraq, especially under these circumstances, and get involved in the war. And certainly no enthusiasm on the part of Kofi Annan at the United Nations or other members of the United Nations to go to Iraq and get involved in the situation as it now exists. So it's easy for the challenger to make that promise. It's much more difficult to deliver on it."
Giuliani joined Brokaw in the hall. Brokaw pressed him: "You're very concerned, I know, about the war on terrorism, obviously, because you were there when it happened in New York. Last week, I interviewed President Musharraf of Pakistan. He says that the United States war in Iraq has made the situation for the United States in the Islamic world worse, not better. It removed Saddam Hussein, but that was a greater benefit to the people of Iraq than it was to the rest of the world."
John Kerry's flip-flops put him in the same league as Abraham Lincoln? During MSNBC's pre-debate coverage, Newsweek Managing Editor Jon Meacham suggested that Kerry could turn the flip-flop charge into "a virtue." After all, he recalled, "the greatest flip-flop in American history is Lincoln in his first Inaugural was not for emancipation and then two years later he was."
MRC analyst Geoff Dickens caught the gem from Meacham, sitting at MSNBC's outdoor set on the campus of the University of Miami, the host of the debate. At about 8:08pm EDT, a bit less than an hour before the debate, Meacham argued:
(See the posted version of this CyberAlert item for a still shot of Meacham on the MSNBC set.)
NBC and ABC decided that the night of the first presidential debate was an opportune time to highlight Democratic allegations about how Republicans are supposedly set to steal another election in Florida. On Thursday's NBC Nightly News, Campbell Brown passed along pablum from Jimmy Carter as she noted how he predicted a repeat of 2000 because "Florida's top election officials favor President Bush. One example, he argues, they've tried to keep some minorities, more likely to vote Democratic, off the rolls." Over on ABC's World News Tonight, Dean Reynolds picked up charges that Democrats claim that Florida's Secretary of State, "handpicked for the job by Governor Jeb Bush, the President's brother," has "been interpreting election laws to benefit the Republican ticket."
Brown concluded a September 30 NBC Nightly News story voting system problems in Florida: "And this week, former President Carter, who was part of a commission to recommend changes, warned, 'a repetition of the problems of 2000 now seems likely,' because, he says, Florida's top election officials favor President Bush. One example, he argues, they've tried to keep some minorities, more likely to vote Democratic, off the rolls."
On ABC's World News Tonight, in a story caught by the MRC's Jessica Anderson, Dean Reynolds relayed: "Motivated in part by lingering anger over what happened here four years ago, Democrats have mobilized 2,000 voting rights attorneys, 46,000 volunteers, 5,500 precinct captains, all working to turn Florida blue."
Update to item #2 in the September 30 CyberAlert about how CBS on Tuesday night failed to inform viewers that a supposedly Bush-supporting mom, portrayed as an average "Pennsylvania voter" worried about the return of the draft, is really an activist leader of a group called "People Against the Draft," and a NBC story which painted a University of Arizona student, fearful of the draft, as politically unaffiliated and still deciding for whom to vote. A blog site landed interviews with CBS reporter Richard Schlesinger and his producer, both of whom dismissed the complaint that they based their story on discredited e-mails which warned of an impending draft, and columnist Michelle Malkin discovered that the student in the NBC story actually founded Students for Edwards on his campus and wants Bush removed from office.
On the CBS story, the InDCJournal.org blog interviewed Richard Schlesinger, CBS News press representative Sandra Genelius, and the producer of the piece, Linda Karas. In the September 28 piece, Schlesinger asserted that "Beverly [Cocco] is petrified about a military draft, and she's not alone. Mass e-mails are circulating among worried parents." In the blog interview, Schlesinger defended basing a story around the scare-mongering e-mails: "The fact is, they were going around. I know several people that got them, and it's gotten people all riled up. Whether or not there's any reality to there being a draft, is almost besides the point. Do I think there's going to be a draft? No. But it's an issue that people are talking about."
Producer Linda Karas maintained: "The truth of the e-mails were absolutely irrelevant to the piece, because all the story said was that people were worried."
For the interviews, conducted by someone identified only as "Bill," see: www.indcjournal.com
For the September 29 CyberAlert article about the September 28 CBS Evening News draft story: www.mediaresearch.org
Columnist Michelle Malkin discovered: "A December 2003 article in the Daily Wildcat, Tor's campus newspaper, reveals that Tor is a Democrat who supported John Edwards in the primary. His club, Students for Edwards, sprang up on campus at the same time as the Students for Dean group, led by student Jonna Lopez. The article notes that 'both Tor and Lopez agree that removing Bush from the White House is the biggest priority.'" For the student newspaper article: wildcat.arizona.edu
For a rundown of Miklaszewski's story, see the September 30 CyberAlert: www.mediaresearch.org
-- Brent Baker, with the overnight team of Geoff Dickens, Jessica Anderson and Brad Wilmouth